Note: Read verses 1-10 in order to get the context in mind.
Introduction: Consider the following illustration from a past edition of Today In The Word:
Harvesting was a far more difficult task before Cyrus McCormick invented the mechanical reaper. Even laboring long hours, farmhands using sickles could harvest no more than one acre per person per day.
When McCormick redesigned his father’s defective prototype and presented the world with the first mechanical reaper, he revolutionized farming worldwide. The new machines could harvest more in one hour than one worker could in a whole day. One fact remained the same, however. Whether with sickles or McCormick’s invention, farmers could reap only what they had sowed. (Tuesday, April 29, 1997)
And with this we have introduced the theme of today’s passage, that of sowing and reaping. But before Paul lays out the principle of sowing and reaping, he first speaks of the importance of sharing in all good things with those who teach.
NKJ Galatians 6:6 Let him who is taught the word share [Present Active Imperative > κοινωνέω, koinōnéō] in all good [ἀγαθός, agathós] things with him who teaches.
This verse serves a dual purpose and provides a transition from one theme to another. It provides an example of bearing one another’s burdens, which was the dominant theme of verses 1-5, but it also provides an example of sowing to the Spirit, a theme which Paul takes up in verse 7.
The focus here is clearly on the relationship of the members of the body with those who teach them the Word of God. Paul uses the present tense of the verb koinōnéō when he commands one who is taught to “share in all good things” with the one who teaches him. In this way he stresses the ongoing duty of those who are taught to those who teach them.
But what, precisely, does Paul mean when says to share in all good things? Many commentators take this as a reference to financial provision for pastor-teachers, but I do not think Paul’s meaning should be so restricted. To be sure, sharing in all good things would include financial support, and such an idea can certainly be found elsewhere in the teaching of both Christ and Paul. For example, when sending out the Seventy missionaries, one of the instructions Jesus gave them concerned pay for their ministry:
NKJ Luke 10:7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house.
When writing to the Corinthians about the same issue, Paul had Jesus’ teaching in mind:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 9:11-14 If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? 12 If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ. 13 Do you not know that those who minister the holy things eat of the things of the temple, and those who serve at the altar partake of the offerings of the altar? 14 Even so the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel.
When Paul later addressed the issue of pay for elders in his first epistle to Timothy, he again reflected Jesus’ teaching on the subject:
NKJ 1 Timothy 5:17-18 Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain” [Deut. 25:4], and, “The laborer is worthy of his wages” [Luke 10:7].
Again, I think Paul’s meaning here in Galatians 6:6 would include such financial remuneration, but I do not see how we can restrict his meaning either to financial support or to the office of pastor-teacher, even if we might rightly assume that he has these matters primarily in mind. So, for example, to share in all good things with the one who teaches may well include telling your teachers about what God is doing in your life as a result of their teaching, or perhaps giving them a card to show your appreciation for their hard work, or defending them when they teach the truth even if others attack them.
Perhaps an example from my own life might help. I recall when I first came across this verse as a young believer. I remembered as I thought about it that there had been those in my past who had taught me the truth of the Gospel, despite my consistently having rejected what they said. As many of you know, I grew up believing in works salvation, but despite my heretical views, God had placed godly teachers in my life. Later, after having believed the truth of the Gospel, and as I thought about this verse, I was convicted that I should contact those who had consistently and lovingly taught me the truth. So, for example, I found the address of an older lady named Rose Bailey, who had pulled me aside one Sunday morning as a child and explained to me that we cannot earn God’s love and that we don’t have to, because He saves us by His grace on account of what Jesus did for us when He died on the cross. I wrote her a rather lengthy letter explaining about how God had saved me and how she had played a role in it. I was then pleasantly surprised to find out that she was still alive, when she wrote me back, telling me how she had prayed for me and how excited she was about what God had done in my life. She also let me know how she had shared my letter with everyone in her small church and that it had been a great encouragement to them as well.
This is one example of how I was able to share in a good thing God had done for me as a result of teaching I had received when I was a twelve or thirteen year old boy. But I can also tell you as a teacher of God’s Word that I love to hear about how God is working in your lives as a result of my teaching ministry. It is one of the most encouraging things you could ever do for me, and it helps the burden of the teaching ministry seem much lighter.
In this way, you can help bear my burden and the burden of others who regularly teach within the congregation (recall vs. 2), but in this way you can also sow to the Spirit, as Paul indicates in the next two verses.
NKJ Galatians 6:7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.
Here Paul warns those who might not want to help support the ministry of the Word that they are simply deceiving themselves and mocking God if they fail to realize that they will reap what they sow. I wonder how many faithful pastor-teachers have been under-appreciated – and under-payed as well – by congregations who are deceived into thinking that their selfishness will not come back to bite them in the end, who may not even realize that they are making a mockery of God and His Word, because in the end it is God Himself and His word that they are under-appreciating and devaluing!
Apparently, such a terrible state of affairs was present in the Galatian churches due to the influence of the false teachers among them. You can imagine how discouraged their true teachers were as they began to lose the support of their congregations. But Paul wants them to remember the important principle of reaping and sowing so that they will be convicted of their error and repent. He further describes this principle in verse 8.
NKJ Galatians 6:8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.
I think Ronald Fung was correct when he said, “Paul here seems to regard the whole of a man’s earthly life as a period of sowing, with harvest awaiting him on the last day: the eschatological yield is determined by present sowing” (The Epistle to the Galatians, p. 295, as cited by Thomas Constable, Notes on Galatians, e-Sword).
This is not to say that we may not reap from our sowing to some extent in this life, but rather that we will not ultimately reap the final reward until the future judgment.
William Hendriksen gets it right when he says in his commentary that:
Sowing to the flesh means to allow the old nature to have its way. So also, sowing to the Spirit means to allow the Holy Spirit to have his way. The one who does the latter is walking by the Spirit (5:16), and is being led by the Spirit (5:18). What happens to these contrasted representative individuals? Already in this life, but especially in and after the resurrection at the last day, he who has been sowing to please his flesh will from the harvest-field of the flesh reap destruction, decay. On the other hand, he who has been sowing to please the Spirit will from the harvest-field of the Spirit reap life everlasting. (BNTC, e-Sword)
However, we should not think that Paul intends to say that we somehow earn everlasting life as a result of what we sow in this life. This would deny everything he has taught in this very epistle about how we are justified by grace through faith alone, apart from works. But remember that, although we are saved by faith alone, the faith that saves is never alone. True saving faith always produces good works in the life of the true believer. True saving faith – faith wrought by the Spirit in our hearts – sows to the Spirit rather than to the flesh. Such faith assures us of our heavenly reward. And such faith never gives up, which leads us to the next verse.
NKJ Galatians 6:9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season [καιρός, kairós], we shall reap if we do not lose heart.
As Leon Morris has aptly noted in his treatment of this verse, “It is easy for the servants of God to become discouraged: the opposition they meet is so constant and the good they are trying to do is so hard to accomplish” (Galatians: Paul’s Charter of Christian Freedom, p. 183, as cited by Thomas Constable, Notes on Galatians, e-Sword).
Sowing to the Spirit means doing good, and it means not growing weary in doing good. But does Paul mean to indicate that we should never get tired as we serve the Lord? I don’t think so. I think he is talking about the kind of weariness here that leads to losing heart – or becoming discouraged – to the point that we give up. If we serve the Lord in such a way that we keep our eye on the goal, with a faith that doesn’t give up on His purposes and never quits believing that He can and will use our efforts, then we can be assured that we will reap the everlasting life that He has promised (vs. 8).
As I see it, Paul is not making our perseverance the basis of our salvation, but he is indicating that our perseverance is connected with our assurance of salvation. And such assurance of God’s promise of everlasting life frees us up to serve God at every opportunity, as Paul says that we must do in the following verse.
NKJ Galatians 6:10 Therefore, as we have opportunity [καιρός, kairós], let us do good [ἀγαθός, agathós] to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.
No wonder Paul has admonished us about the temptation to grow weary and discouraged in going good! He expects us to take advantage of every opportunity to do good to every person we can! Martin DeHaan offers this helpful illustration:
Several years ago an article appeared in Time magazine about a doctor who lived through the terrible bombing of Hiroshima. When the blast occurred, Dr. Fumio Shigeto was waiting for a streetcar only a mile away, but he was sheltered by the corner of a concrete building. Within seconds after the explosion, his ears were filled with the screams of victims all around him.
Not knowing what had happened, he stood there for a moment bewildered—one doctor wondering how he could ever handle this “mountain” of patients. Then, still somewhat stunned, Dr. Shigeto knelt, opened his black bag, and began treating the person nearest to him.
When I look at the staggering needs of a dying world, I can easily become overwhelmed. God certainly doesn’t expect me to frantically try to help everyone in need. That’s too big a burden. Galatians 6 says that we are to “do good to all,” but that doesn’t mean we have to reach everyone. We are to help anyone we can whenever we have the opportunity to do so.
When you are faced with the distressing spiritual needs of a lost world, don’t despair. All God asks is that you do what you can. (“Do What You Can,” Our Daily Bread, March 13, 2000)
Yes, we must do all the good we can for whomever we can. But Paul says this is especially true with regard to our fellow believers, for together with us they are a part of “he household of faith,” our spiritual family. This means that, as we set our priorities, our commitment to the welfare of our brothers and sisters in Christ should come first in our thinking. And although we must never let our commitment to the body of Christ cause us to become so inwardly focused that we lose sight of our evangelistic testimony to the world around us, neither should we neglect our primary obligation to the body of Christ in our zeal to reach out to the world.
Conclusion: I will conclude with the words of the nineteenth-century Scottish commentator John Brown, who has done a good job of driving home the point Paul is making here:
Every poor and distressed man has a claim on me for pity, and, if I can afford it, for active exertion and pecuniary relief. But a poor Christian has a far stronger claim on my feelings, my labors, and my property. He is my brother, equally interested as myself in the blood and love of the Redeemer. I expect to spend an eternity with him in heaven. He is the representative of my unseen Savior, and he considers everything done to his poor afflicted as done to himself. For a Christian to be unkind to a Christian is not only wrong, it is monstrous. (As cited by Timothy George, NAC, p. 428)
I hope we will all remember that we will reap what we sow, whether it is through our giving financially and materially to others or through providing emotional support and encouragement. And how we sow in this respect is a very good indicator of whether or not we are true believers who can have assurance of God’s promise of everlasting life.